Ohio prisons director says executioners occasionally miss rehearsals for inmates’ last day

By Andrew Welsh-huggins, AP
Monday, September 13, 2010

Ohio prison staff sometimes miss execution prep

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Members of the state’s volunteer execution team occasionally miss mandatory practice sessions because of weather, sickness, vacation and other reasons, Ohio’s prison director says in an affidavit providing new details about the training.

The prison employees who serve on the 12-member execution team have other responsibilities besides the executions and are covered by union-mandated allowances for time off, director Ernie Moore said in the affidavit filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Columbus.

“An occasional excused absence from a training session is to be expected and hardly calls into question the ability of the team members to effectively perform their duties,” Moore said in the filing.

It was a response to attorneys for death row inmates in Ohio who allege the state doesn’t consistently enforce the mandatory training requirements for the people who carry out executions.

Last September, in an unprecedented move, the state stopped the attempted execution of Romell Broom after about two hours when executioners failed to find a suitable vein. Broom has sued, arguing that a second attempt to put him to death would be unconstitutionally cruel.

Lawyers have argued that Phillip Kerns, the former warden at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, where Ohio executions are carried out, missed some training sessions before Broom’s execution. Moore says in his affidavit that Kerns had extensive experience from actual executions and other training sessions.

Prisons system spokeswoman Julie Walburn declined to comment Monday on the affidavit, saying the court filings would speak for themselves.

Lawyers for the inmates also want U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost to allow inmates immediate access to their attorneys as an execution is carried out in case something goes wrong.

Moore says lawyers have ample access to their clients and notes that inmates could designate their attorney to be one of three witnesses allowed by Ohio execution procedures.

In 2004, condemned inmate Lewis Williams struggled with guards and had to be carried into the death chamber and forcibly strapped to the gurney. He is the only inmate to have put up such a fight since Ohio resumed executions in 1999.

In the affidavit, Moore explained the efforts that execution team members make to avoid inmates physically resisting their death.

Just before the team begins checking an inmate’s arm for a suitable vein, the team leader makes sure to explain the execution process to the inmate and answer any questions, Moore said.

“It is a sensitive, important and potentially difficult conversation,” he said.

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